Image from: http://www.topgear.co.za
Your garage holds more than just your cars and rarely-used power tools. It holds the potential for greatness. The wide-open floorplan and separation from the rest of the house mean that the garage is the perfect room for making noise. As countless hobbyist handymen or teenage bands have discovered, many projects are best pursued out of the way of parents or spouses. The garage is a blank canvas large enough to hold your supplies for any DIY project, large or small. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of the greatest companies in the world, and many of the most important inventions, got their starts in garages.
Join us as we explore these achievements through a running blog series, updated every Monday. We’re interested in learning all there is to know about the creativity produced in the most pivotal garages in history, and we’ll bring all of our findings straight to you.
Welcome to Garage Greatness.
Need For Speed
Did you know that Lotus Cars, British manufacturer of sport and racing cars and one of the most respected names in F1 racing, began in a garage? Founder Colin Chapman originally studied Structural Engineering at University College London, but after graduating, serving in the Royal Air Force and working for the British Aluminum company, Chapman began to pursue his passion for muscle cars, starting in a garage.
The first Lotus, later named the Mk1 but at the time simply called Lotus, was made in 1948 in a lock-up garage behind Chapman’s girlfriend’s house. Garages are perpetually drawing adherents to the school of auto engineering, with handymen and workshop women favoring the open space and noise separation for their engineering projects. Just as you might tinker with your car’s transmission in the garage, Chapman used this space to apply his engineering skills to the problem of producing the perfect racing car.
Chapman started from a 1928 Austin Seven, but by the time he was done he had created an innovative and blisteringly fast racer. The Mk1 was not a powerful car by the standards of the time, with only 15 Horsepower and a tiny chassis, but his experiences with aluminum and structural engineering had taught Chapman how to make a competitive racing vehicle. What the Lotus lacked in engine power, it made up for by being exceedingly light, a design philosophy that Lotus Cars continues to follow to this day.
The Mk1 competed in trials races, which are a devilish combination of off-road mud and steep hills. The small size and tight handling of the vehicle was enough to secure some wins, and with the proceeds Chapman funded the development of a second car, the appropriately named Mk2, also modified from an Austin Seven.
In 1952, Chapman decided to start producing race cars full time and founded the Lotus Engineering Company. At first he continued to design and produce only racing cars, but quickly learned that, like Enzo Ferrari, he would need to produce road cars as well. The Mark VII was a lightweight and responsive vehicle which felt more like a formula car than a road vehicle. The vehicle wasn’t blowing anyone away with its meager top speed of 81 mph, but with a reasonable price point of $2795 (approximately $20,000 today) the vehicle helped to fund Chapman’s ongoing racing habit.
Team Lotus split off from Lotus Cars in 1954 to compete in Formula One racing, and did so to great success from 1958 until 1994. Before the formation of Team Lotus the company encouraged their customers to race with Lotus cars, but a formal team allowed Lotus to focus their efforts and excel in the field. In 1960, only six years after their formation, Stirling Moss won the marque’s first Grand Prix in Monaco. In 1963, Jim Clark won the World Constructors Championship, putting Lotus firmly onto the winner’s podium and firmly into the minds of Formula One enthusiasts for the next three decades.
Colin Chapman died in 1982, amidst rumors of involvement in John De Lorean’s cocaine scandal, and in recent years the Lotus name has tied to several different racing teams to various measures of success. Certainly, the company has a varied and interesting history, spanning from a humble origin in Chapman’s girlfriend’s garage to a troubled recent history. Chapman’s innovations and the innovations of Team Lotus are still in the minds of designers today, giving Lotus an enduring legacy. All of this, from humble beginnings in a garage.
This is not an isolated story; great companies and inventions seem to naturally find their starts in garages. Next Monday, Garage Greatness will look at the origins of The Walt Disney Company, the second largest broadcasting and cable company in terms of revenue in the world. Disney is a household name around the world and an multinational leader in media and entertainment, but the company has never forgotten their roots to a pair of animators working in the back of a garage. Learn how Walt Disney started animating his much-loved Mickey Mouse in his Uncle’s garage here, on Garage Greatness.
What do you think of the new Lotus 311? Do Chapman’s innovations overshadow the scandals later in his life? Do you think that Lotus will return to the world stage as a Formula One powerhouse again? Let us hear your response using any of the share links on the left side of this page!